Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Sam Hornish, Jr.
June 22, 2007
THE MODERATOR: We have four drivers here today from the IndyCar Series. I'm sure you'll recognize at least some of them. San Hornish, Jr., with Team Penske; Danica Patrick, Andretti Green Racing; Dan Wheldon, Target Chip Ganassi Racing; and Marco Andretti with Andretti Green Racing.
We'd like to start out by asking each of the drivers, if they could pass the microphone along, where do they think they and their team are at this point in the season and what they've seen or heard about Iowa Speedway and what's it going to take to win this weekend. We'll start off it Sam Hornish fresh off a victory in Texas.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Definitely we've looked forward to coming here for quite a while, ever since I heard the track was being built, that it was going to be an eighth mile longer, somewhat version of Richmond, a place that I like a lot. I figured this is going to be a great racetrack, it's going to be really fast. And when I got here last year, ran the Busch Car here, and it was pretty quick in that car, so I'm really excited about getting out there and running these cars.
From what I've seen, I think that you're going to see a lot of side-by-side racing, a lot of passing and it should be a very exciting race.
As far as where we're at with Team Penske so far in the reason, obviously not where we're used to being in the points, but kind of trying to claw our way back from the first couple race mishaps and problems that we've had, but I think that we're having a good year so far, fresh off a win at Texas, and definitely looking forward to coming here and to Richmond. And the next couple places on the schedule are places we feel like we can make up big points if we keep our noses clean and stay out of trouble.
DANICA PATRICK: Well, I haven't been here before, but Tony Kanaan has, and he said the track is fast, it's tough, it's going to be physical. But I look forward to that. I always like going to the short ovals. I think they make for really good racing. All the banking here should -- I don't know if it's going to be multiple cars wide, but it sounds like it might be, and that's always good for passing, too.
So the racing should be good. It should probably be a quick race. But I think 16 seconds around here is something.
But as I said, I like coming to the short ovals, and as a team I think we're obviously showing pretty strong. In a lot of situations we've been many cars in the top 5, and I think that that's something that's really difficult to accomplish, especially when you have four cars. I think everything is going really well, and I don't see any reason why it should slow down.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Do I really have to talk about my season so far (laughter)? It's been a character builder for sure for me. My team is all right this year so far. This I think is going to be a good stretch, a couple races for me, hopefully anyway. But no, I think just all the bad luck is hitting me at once this year. So hopefully we can just get stronger from it.
Yeah, I mean, just Tony has been here, like Danica said, and we learn as much as we can from him before we get out there and do it today, but plenty of track time and a short oval. It's definitely -- I can tell you before I even get out there, it's going to be one of my favorites.
DAN WHELDON: Well, I think it's been a pretty reasonable start to the season for Target Chip Ganassi Racing. You know, from my standpoint we started very strong. We've run into a little bit of bad luck just recently, but we'll -- we've been pretty quick everywhere that we've raced at other than the one that counts the most, the Indianapolis 500. So that was a little bit disappointing.
But we're going to obviously try and be very strong certainly these next five weeks. I think they're going to be crucial for the championship.
In terms of this racetrack, I think anybody that's been around it has talked very highly of it, and I think as Rusty says, this is his money maker. I'm very excited to be here. From what I understand -- it's obviously a short oval, but I think you're going to get the Superspeedway-type racing. So that's going to be exciting.
But hopefully one of the Target Chip Ganassi Racing cars can end up back in victory lane.
THE MODERATOR: I'm going to open it up for questions now.
Q. Sam, due to Team Penske's stats on short tracks, how do you explain that and what kind of confidence does that give you, not only coming off a win, but the team has been really good on short tracks?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I can't say a whole lot about last year, but 2004 and 2005 when we were running with Toyota, we didn't feel like we had enough power on some of the bigger tracks, so when we went to the shorter ones we knew that that was the places we had a chance to win because it was more about the handling of the car, more about the driver, so those were the places we really focused on.
Of course, that carried over into last year. I think that this year, Helio was super-quick in Milwaukee, I was so-so, could run in the top three but not to the point where I thought I could win the race.
I think that our focus has been a lot on that throughout a couple years ago, and then last year we really focused on the mile and a halfs and trying to get to a point where we thought we could win and run up front more consistently. Now a little bit more this year it's just trying to get back to that overall thing where we feel good at all of them. But Helio has had a chance to come and test here and ran pretty quick, so I think that we ought to have a good idea what we need to do this weekend.
Q. Marco, what is it about short tracks that some drivers take to them and some don't?
MARCO ANDRETTI: That's a tough one. I don't know, I think -- well, for me as a driver, I enjoy it, especially getting the laps out of it and qualifying and stuff like that is a lot tougher than the mile and a half. And obviously setting up a race car is going to be more crucial. And just from a pure driving aspect, I think it means more at a place like this.
So hopefully -- all I can say is hopefully we have a good car, and I think we should.
Q. Danica, when you first heard IndyCar was coming to Iowa, what went through your mind?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, it wasn't that long ago, it's new. I mean, the last I was really in Iowa was when I used to race go-karts in the town called Marshalltown, I think, and that was really the last racing and the last times I was really ever in Iowa at all.
So obviously I know about it. I live not that far away. I'm from Illinois. So I think my parents got here on the bus in like four hours, and they stopped -- I think they got pulled over actually, got out of it thank goodness -- thank goodness, it's my bus (laughter), but -- thank you, Cop, whoever you are. It's good to be back here near home, so should get some good fans out there.
Q. Sam, how do you prepare from a setup standpoint?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, I have to trust that Helio had his head into it here that day when he was here testing. As far as really getting in there, I know that when we go to the shorter tracks that we run really similar setups, so as long as he had a good feeling about the car at the end of the day, I know that we've got a good place to start from.
The good thing about most of the tracks you go to for the first time, it's really just about seeing the track, knowing where the lines are and getting a little bit of seat time out there. I've had two days here, and obviously they were in a different car, but I really don't think that that matters much. I know the layout of the track and know what to expect out there. The only thing you really have to worry about now is how many cars are going to be able to run close together because that's something that we're going to see that's I think a lot different from places you're seeing like Phoenix, Milwaukee. Richmond I think that there's an opportunity for more passing and more cars to run together. So I think it might be a place that's a little bit more like what Pike's Peak used to be like.
Q. Danica, what are your thoughts about the fact that if you win this weekend it puts Iowa on the map of IndyCar racing?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, Indy really is in Indianapolis. That is really the heart of IndyCar. But I think it would obviously be a great thing for the track, and it would be a good memory. You know, I would hope it would get some attention for that. It would just mean that I would hope for my sake it would stay on the schedule and we'd come back here a lot. So I might be wishing for that double race schedule when we used to go to a couple tracks a couple of times. Regardless of that, it would be a good day, no matter where I was at.
Q. How do you think the varying degrees of banking will affect the racing here?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I guess I got designated. You know, we run at Miami, which is variable banking, as well. There's only, I think, a degree in between each one of the bankings, so it's really not something that you notice as you go across the transitions. Michigan is another place that's kind of similar, but I think Michigan is like two degrees in between the banking so you get to notice it a little bit more there.
It's really about how the track is paved and where the seams come together and where the different degrees meet. This tracks looks like it's pretty much flawless as far as that. It hasn't had too much, any kind of aging so it, so it's not bumpy, and I don't think that's going to have a super big effect on it.
Those tracks that are variable degree banking tracks are more for the benefit of the stock cars that have less downforce and run a lot more lines. Generally we run the preferred line, which is high on the straightaways, low on the corners, where you see them run places like California and Michigan, they might run all along the outside wall to make the car do what they want it to do, plus they get a little bit more banking up there, as well, so it's a little bit more for them than it is for us.
Q. First of all, your thoughts on driving on a brand new track? And second of all, the fact that you make several stops in the Midwest and you're from South Carolina, is there kind of a probable --
SAM HORNISH, JR.: My bus driver actually is from Iowa, only about an hour away, and he has been super-excited about this three years ago when he heard that we were going to come out here. He said, you're going to have a bunch of fans there, and I've heard that they've had this race sold out for quite a while now, so I'm really actually pretty excited about it.
The Midwest is really the heart of the IndyCar's group of fans, stemming outward from Indianapolis. Those are the best places that we go every year that have the most fans. It's great for them, too, because they can go and see more than one race. They don't have to travel so far.
I think for me as far as being located in northwest Ohio that I have five or six races that we go to that are within four hours of driving distance for me, so it's pretty good for me and it's pretty good for my fan base.
Q. Sam, Dan mentioned this being Rusty's money maker. Does it look like a track that was designed by a driver, with a driver's mind?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, it looks like a place that definitely Rusty would design. He's had a pretty good record at Richmond, so I figured if he was going to build a place he'd build it a little bit bigger, that you'd have a little bit more room at the corners as well as the banking. And I think that Rusty put a lot of thought into it. I mean, if you see the guy, he irons his jeans (laughter), so if he's going to do something as far as building a racetrack, you would think he's going to put some time into it.
I think he's going to keep focused on it. I think it's a great track. They've done a lot of great things here, especially with the new safer barrier, and I think that's something that I'm hoping I don't have to test out, but I think it's great that it's there.
Q. Looking at the NASCAR schedule, boom, boom, boom, how hard is that on drivers and teams and how important is it for you to pull it together at this point to make run for the championship after this point?
DAN WHELDON: I think any time you have a run of races, you particularly -- you just really want to eliminate any mistakes. You've got to capitalize on any opportunity you can get because the next five weeks are going to be crucial towards the championship.
You know, it's varying racetracks, as well, so they're different disciplines, which when you're in a good team you can adapt to very quickly, so that's important. With the fact that you've got consecutive races it's important that you don't create any extra work for the team because that can take away from development time. I think everybody has seen this year that the field is very, very tight, and the smallest of things can make a pretty big difference.
In terms of how it is on the driver, I prefer it. That's something that appeals to me a lot because you're in the race car all the time. It certainly seems the off-seasons are very long, so I actually enjoy this part of the schedule with the fact that we can be in the car all the time racing competitively.
Q. Danica, given your finish at Texas, does it feel like -- do you have a feeling that winning is going to come sooner rather than later and that people are going to stop saying when are you going to win and get the monkey off your back as soon as possible?
DANICA PATRICK: It's obviously a good sign that things are going better. I'm getting along with my engineer well. We're starting to really understand each other, and most importantly he's understanding me. I only know how to drive one way. I only know how to communicate the way the car feels to me one way. So that relationship takes some time.
And especially with multiple teammates, you can sometimes almost get a little bit distracted just because people are fast with a certain setup, so you might stay with it for longer than you need. But I think overall multiple teammates is obviously much better.
But it's going to happen when it happens and probably when we all least expect it, or when I do, and I've found a lot more benefit in just thinking to myself and finding ways to maximize everything that -- go faster in every little area that I possibly can, and I think that that's been working well for me the last few races. So I'll just stick with that and be relieved the day it happens and go on, win the next one.
Q. Dan, coming from the farthest away, what are your impressions on Iowa?
DAN WHELDON: There's definitely not much around (laughter). I thought I was from a small town in England, but this is really small.
I think like a lot of people have said, the people that come to these races, and that's what we've got to remember, it's the fans that make these races for us, and certainly I think in 2007 every racetrack that we've been to that seems to -- in my opinion be a pretty big rise in crowd attendance. Another race like this where I think certainly you've got a big name behind it in Rusty Wallace is going to attract fans, and certainly I think with the way the racetrack has been built, it's going to bode for typical IndyCar-style races where you're going to have cars running two, possibly three wide, inches apart. I'm not exactly sure what the speeds were when these guys tested here, but incredible speeds.
So I think everybody is excited. I think this is -- when we can add more races to the calendar that bring in a lot of fans and we can put on a good show for them, I think that's a positive.
Q. For either Dan or Sam, I think you guys and your teams are located down in the Charlotte area, everybody else mostly is around Indianapolis. Does that create any extra problems for you?
DAN WHELDON: Well, the IndyCar shop is based in Indianapolis, for Target Chip Ganassi Racing up there. Obviously's NASCAR's shop is in Charlotte.
Q. Does that create any problems?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Since Penske Racing started their IndyCar program back in the '70s, they've either been outside of Philadelphia or in Reading, Pennsylvania. This is the first year that we've been in Morrisville, so it's always been a logistics things. They've had that -- for 30-plus years they've had it in -- things in configuration, knowing what it needed to be, how far ahead they needed to order parts, what they needed to do as far as traveling to some of these other races. It's really a factor more for the sake of the team guys, the president of Penske Racing, Tim Cindric, that everything is all under one roof now and he can be at all three shops in one day, and he doesn't have to be flying back and forth and doing all that stuff. Since we're already outside of the Indianapolis area, it really made no difference for us to be down there in Charlotte or to be in Reading.
Q. Danica, do you feel resentment from other drivers?
DANICA PATRICK: No. I really think that -- I really hope that everybody doesn't resent it. As long as it's somebody or anybody or everybody is getting attention for the series, then it will compound to everyone else. I haven't received any sort of threats of any kind (laughing), but everybody else seems okay but I have no idea what they're thinking on the inside.
I'm sure there's a mild amount inside that people get frustrated with when they do well and win races and perhaps they're not the biggest story, but it's the media, and y'all follow the stories and whatever you feel like will grab the attention of people sitting at home reading the newspaper or watching TV. So there's really nothing I can do other than be myself and hope people like it.
Q. Marco, what do you think the speeds will be for the race and how many laps before you peak?
MARCO ANDRETTI: You're going to have to ask me after the first run because like Dan said, right now I really have no idea of the speeds. I think we might go by time anyway.
SAM HORNISH: I think they were running close to 185 average when they were here.
DANICA PATRICK: Sam has got all the answers.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I guess I did my homework, I don't know. They said that we can run 70, 80 laps, but that probably won't be achieved without yellows or whatever. We could go possibly 80 laps on fuel, and they said that they were running close to 185 mile-an-hour average, I think, when they were here testing.
Q. Track has been built as a short track, a track like a speedway. What did you bring, type one or two, three?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: All short oval stuff, same thing that we'll run at Richmond, Milwaukee, places like that. Just real similar to what we run on the road courses. That's actually probably a little bit more than we would need, especially for qualifying, but obviously we don't know how everything races around here. I think that they're trying to get the first race under their belt, find out if the cars have enough downforce to be able to run close together and then it might be something that's a bit different next year.
Q. Danica, I see that you were on the Forbes 100 celebrity list, one of the four race car drivers on the list. I'm sure Earnhardt is up in arms when they see that. Have you ever given thought to the fact, that's why we've been trying for 50 years --
DANICA PATRICK: There wasn't even a NASCAR driver on the list.
Q. Have you ever been tempted to be the great female hope for NASCAR they've been trying to find for 50 years?
DANICA PATRICK: I do remember when there was -- I remember mostly one instance. I was in Montana right after Indy in '05 for my husband's birthday. Don't ask. We have friends there. And I picked up a newspaper, and I'm looking and there's two girls on the front, I thought maybe they were runners or something, so I look at the sports page, and boom, it's got my name, looking for the next Danica for NASCAR, whatever.
By the sound of it, it sounded like they were looking for me. But it's something that is out there. At this point in time I'm in a position where I can win races with the team, and I enjoy my life, I enjoy the schedule. I like the way it is. Obviously I like IndyCar. I like the challenge of IndyCar. It's hard, it's very technical, and I enjoy where I'm at right now, so at this point in time I'm happy, but you just don't know what kind of opportunities will present itself. I can say if it wasn't a situation where I couldn't win races I wouldn't do it, but you just don't know what's going to make sense in the future.
At this point in time I'm just trying to grow IndyCar as much as I can and make it more popular, and that's what's happening, so I'm glad to see that, and we'll see where time takes me. Who knows where I was going to be in -- five years ago I wouldn't have thought this, and then five years from now, who knows again, so I can't honestly say what I'm going to do, but I know it's out there.
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